Iran has power to slap US in the face: Khamenei delivers first Friday sermon in eight years

Iran has power to slap US in the face: Khamenei delivers first Friday sermon in eight years
Iran has power to slap US in the face: Khamenei delivers first Friday sermon in eight years

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iran's supreme leader delivered his first Friday sermon in Tehran since 2012 warning the United States that the Islamic Republic has demonstrated that it "has the power to slap the face of an arrogant power".

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's sermon, delivered in front of thousands at the capital's Mosalla prayer congregation area, comes as Iran faces pressure at home and abroad over its accidental shooting down of a passenger plane.

Mr Khamenei, 80, has held the country's top office since 1989 and has the final say on all major decisions.

The Iranian government and military were accused of attempting a cover-up after waiting three days to admit that a Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed minutes after leaving Tehran's international airport had been shot down with missiles. All 176 people on board were killed, including more than 80 Iranians, at least 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians and 10 from Sweden.

Officials said the plane was mistaken for a missile amid a high alert in the hours after Iran launched missiles at US military positions in Iraq. The barrage was a retaliation to the US killing of top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.

In his sermon, Mr Khamenei said the assassination of Suleimani was a disgrace for the US administration and the day Iran retaliated by attacking America targets in Iraq was a "day of God". Mr Khamenei said millions of Iranians and thousands of Iraqis mourned Suliemani.

Suleimani's killing on January 3 triggered an outpouring of grief and anger among Iranians. Mr Khamenei openly wept at the funeral and vowed “harsh retaliation” against the United States.

But the admission on January 11 to downing the passenger plane quickly turned public anger against the Iranian regime, sparking three days of protests that were suppressed with tear gas and live ammunition.

Internationally, Iran is under pressure to reveal full details of the incident and to compensate the victims' families. Foreign ministers of the five countries whose citizens were killed met in London on Thursday and called for full and continuing co-operation from Iran and insisted it took the first step in offering compensation.

At the same time, Iran faces the prospect of more international sanctions as its economy reels from increasingly stringent restrictions imposed by US President Donald since pulling out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in May 2018.

After Suleimani was killed, Iran said it would no longer be bound by the limitations in the 2015 agreement, which imposed curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. European countries who have been trying to salvage the deal responded this week by invoking a dispute mechanism that is aimed at bringing Iran back into compliance and could result in a re-imposition of sanctions.

Mr Khamenei was always sceptical of the nuclear agreement, arguing that the United States could not be trusted. But he allowed President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, to conclude the agreement with then US president Barack Obama. Since Mr Trump's withdrawal, he has said there can be no negotiations with the United States.

Mr Khamenei last delivered a Friday sermon in February 2012, when he called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and vowed to support anyone confronting it. He also warned against any US strikes on Iran over its nuclear programme, saying the US would be damaged “10 times over”.

Updated: January 17, 2020 12:43 PM

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